Finn Harps got off to a losing start in the Airtricity League First Division when they went down to a 2-1 defeat against favourites Limerick FC at Jackman Park on Friday night.
Limerick FC 2
Finn Harps 1
Goals from Paudie Quinn and Rory Gaffney made sure Adam Clarke’s long range strike on his debut for the club was not enough to seal at least a share of the spoils for the Ballybofey club.
However, there were signs of encouragement for manager Peter Hutton and director of football Felix Healy ahead of Mervue United’s visit to the Twin Towns on Saturday night for the first home game of the campaign.
Hutton was banned from the technical area having been sent from the bench in the closing stages of last season, while striker Stephen O’Donnell was also suspended, in his case rather absurdly for picking up four booking last term. Therefore Blaine Curtis played up front with Kevin McHugh as the underdogs went into the lions’ den fearlessly, with a 4-4-2 formation.
Thomas McBride, also making his first senior appearance for Harps, was the constant threat to Limerick throughout and his shot from just outside the area after just two minutes went over Barry Ryan’s crossbar when really, the visitors should have been a goal to the good.
However, Limerick’s short-odds in the bookmakers’ window are for good reason and on 13 minutes the side managed by Pat Scully, who included Shaun Kelly from Killybegs at right-back and Shane Guthrie from Castlefin in the centre, flexed their muscle for a fabulous opening goal. Denis Behan nodded backwards for Quinn who met the dropping ball with a thunderous volley gave Ciaran Gallagher no chance.
Little more than ten minutes later, the advantage was doubled. A Sean Brosnan cross from the left looked an easy task for Ciaran Greene but the defender sliced his clearance and Gaffney capitalised with a well placed strike from an acute angle.
Harps, though, manufactured chances of their own and another opening saw a second golden opportunity fall to McBride. A James Doherty cross to the back post found the awaiting McHugh to nod across goal. His measured nod found McBride with his volley forcing Barry Ryan to save with his legs to deny Harps a way back into the game.
The second half saw a dip in the performance levels from Limerick. Harps started to gain more possession in the centre of the park and looked a threat.
Just after the hour mark, the visitors found a way back into the game. A free-kick from the left was cleared but only as far as Clarke, who met the clearance with a powerful strike from the edge of the area and deflected before beating Ryan in the Limerick goal.
Harps continued to press, but following the introduction of Dominic Foley halfway through the second period, Limerick looked dangerous on the break.
Behan had Limerick’s best opportunities for the remainder of the game. Following an incisive break, Dominic Foley displayed his power. Beating two players in the air, the former Republic of Ireland striker won the header which played in Behan but his shot went wide. On another occasion, his tame effort was easily gathered by Harps keeper Gallagher.
So, a fruitless start for Hutton and Healy but if there is to be any consolation, few are expected to leave Jackman Park with much this term. Harps can draw on home comforts against Mervue.
Limerick: Barry Ryan, Shaun Kelly, Shane Guthrie, Pat Purcell, Andrew Bhandarkar, Stephen Bradley, Joe Gamble, Rory Gaffney (Dominic Foley 68), Paudie Quinn (Steven McGann 80), Sean Brosnan (Derek O’Brien 61), Denis Behan.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher, James Doherty, Keith Cowan (Adam Clarke 45), Thomas McGonagle, Ciaran Greene, Aaron O’Hagan, Hugh Carlin (Barry O’Mahony 45), Thomas McBride, Blaine Curtis, Kevin McHugh, Ciaran Coll.
Referee: Jim McKell.
First Division results
Athlone Town 2-1 SD Galway
Limerick FC 2-1 Finn Harps
Mervue United 0-1 Longford Town
Wexford Youths 6-0 Waterford United
First Division Fixtures
Wexford Youths v Limerick FC
Finn Harps v Mervue United
Longford Town v Athlone Town
SD Galway v Wexford Youths